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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Keep your secrets safe on Word

By Kim Komando

You probably e-mail business letters, resumes and personal documents as Word documents. But you may be telling people things that would make your hair curl. Unless you take extra steps, recipients of Word documents can easily see items deleted or modified.

For example, how about that letter you sent to Joe Jones? You first referred to him as a "sniveling creep." You changed that to "great guy." But Joe may know what you really think.

Hidden within that letter was your original wording. Microsoft Word dutifully saved it all. And Joe doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to find it.

Anybody who uses Word risks exposing sensitive information. Word inserts metadata (information about data) to help identify author names, document titles, keywords, print and save dates, and names of people who have reviewed and saved a document. Metadata can also spill the beans about your place of business: your company or organization's name, the name of the network server or hard drive on which the document is saved and any comments added.

Some of this data are easily seen in Word. And some can be viewed only by opening the document in a specialized program. Regardless, the data are there.

Don't be embarrassed if you've never considered this subject. Corporations with information technology departments run into this problem. The software company Bitform studied Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on the Web sites of several Fortune 100 companies, and was able to identify thousands of user names from the documents.

There are ways to ensure that your personal or company data stays with you:

  • Turn off Fast Save. This feature speeds up saving a document by saving only changes made to a document. However, text that you delete from a document may still remain. Microsoft recommends turning off this feature to eliminate any chance of deleted text remaining in the document. Click Tools, then Options. Click the Save tab. Clear the "Allow fast saves" check box and click OK.

  • You can remove personal information from a document when you save it. In Word 2002 and 2003, click Tools, then Options. Click the Security tab. Under Privacy options, select "Remove personal information from file properties on save" and click OK. In Word 2000, click Tools, then Options. Select the User Information tab. Clear the information in Name, Initials and Mailing Address and click OK.

  • Turn off the Track Changes tool. In Word 2002 and 2003, click Tools, then Track Changes. In Word 2000 and earlier versions, click Tools, Track Changes, Highlight Changes. Click to clear the check mark in the "Track Changes while editing" box.

    Track Changes must be disabled before writing the document. Otherwise, any changes made will not be removed.

  • Finally, a free Microsoft tool removes hidden data from Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The Remove Hidden Data add-in tool, at snipurl .com/3osw, will delete hidden text and comments from individual files or a batch of files at once.

    Contact Kim Komando at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.